Right after I wake up each morning, I read the new email in my inbox. Yesterday was no exception, and a note from my friend Kate McKenna (who went with me to Sicily) made me hop out of bed, jump into some clothes, and race out the door, barely spending time to brush my teeth, wash my face, and comb my hair. No shower; no breakfast. I even forgot to put on my sunscreen, which I try never to do! Kate had sent me a New York Times article from June 14 about Caravaggio’s Madonna di Loreto, which included a copy of the painting in glorious color, and I had to see it.
The Madonna di Loreto hangs in a church just two blocks from Piazza Navona, and I pass that church, Basilica di Sant’Agostino, at least once a week. The church is nondescript from the outside, and as the author says, beggars always line the steps (as they do in many churches in Rome). I’ve never had much interest in going into the church until yesterday morning.
I was at the church in 15 minutes or so and pushed open the door. There, in the first chapel on the left, was the painting, and no one else was in the church. This Caravaggio was all mine! I put my only euro in the light box, the light went on, and I was blown away by the beauty of this painting. I stood gazing at it until the light went out (five minutes or so—I don’t really know) and wished that I had just one more euro (or five). I briefly considered asking the beggars for change! If I hadn’t recently become a Caravaggio nut, I would be after seeing this painting. Michael Kimmelman describes the painting much better than I ever could, so be sure to read his description and see the painting at the link in the first paragraph.
When the light went out, I left the Madonna di Loreto to wander about the church. I was surprised to find such a beautiful church. I especially loved the ceiling, which was painted a glorious sunset blue.
After 30 minutes or so, I made my way back to the front door. A sign near the door said something like, “Inside see Caravaggio’s Madonna di Loreto and Raphael’s Isaiah.” What? This church has a Raphael, too? Back in I trooped to find the Raphael fresco. I couldn’t find it. I went back to the front door to look at the picture of it, and I tried again to find it. This happened three or four times, and I finally spotted The Prophet Isaiah high up on a pillar in the center of the church. It was worth the effort!
I then left the church—happy to have seen such glorious art. I was so happy, in fact, that I walked a couple of blocks to the Chiesa San Luigi dei Francesi to see Caravaggio’s three paintings about the life of St. Matthew.
Ah, Caravaggio. What a guy! Thank you, Kate, for a wonderful morning!